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February 23, 2009

Horn's Goal -- Build A Program

It's been no strange concept to hear South Carolina coach Darrin Horn say -- constantly -- that he pays no attention to his team's increased presence on mock NCAA tournament projections or the Gamecocks' status within the SEC standings. His motto all year has been that the only important game is the next game, and only to be concerned with what USC could directly control.

During Monday's SEC coaches teleconference, he revealed another reason why he approaches his seasons that way.

This year may be grand, but it's only the first building block of a foundation.

"What we're trying to do is build a program that will be a success over a long period of time," he said. "That's the mindset and attitude that we want in our program."

At 19-6 (8-4 SEC), the Gamecocks have been fixtures on many draft boards for the past three weeks. The latest edition of one popular one, Joe Lunardi's "Bracketology" on ESPN.com, has 11th seed USC playing sixth-seed Syracuse in Miami.

That's hearsay for the moment, but what's real is USC's place in the SEC. The Gamecocks are tied with Florida and Kentucky for the division lead with four games to go, and they host the Wildcats on Wednesday.

None of it (except the UK game) is really registering to Horn, who claimed not to know anything about first-place ties until a reporter brought it up in a press conference a couple of weeks ago. Not that it changed his approach -- he doesn't talk to his players about it, whether they're in first or last place.

"For us to be successful, we've got to stay focused on the things that make us good," he said. "We can't control standings in terms of, yes, how we play, but where we're going to be three weeks from now."

Reality tells everyone that it'd be extremely easy for Horn or his players to check the newspaper or Internet or hear it around campus -- someone's always going to be talking about the supposed basketball revival taking place in Columbia. Whether they say they know of it or not, the information is saturating the Gamecocks' surroundings.

Still, they say they don't know and don't pay attention to it, although there have been a few minor slipups lately.

Mike Holmes said after the Alabama game that USC's home games against Kentucky and Tennessee were huge, although he also said that as long as the Gamecocks kept winning, they wouldn't have to worry about anyone else.

Guard Devan Downey agreed, saying after the Bama game that he knew of some other scores but didn't really know how they affected USC.

"One thing we know about the East right now is we control our own destiny," he said. "Georgia beat Florida, so we got Kentucky in here, we got Tennessee again. Only thing we know about the standings is we control our own destiny in the East. We ain't got to look and see who wins or anything."

Horn said each player would have to be asked directly to see if their naivete was real or put on for the cameras, and didn't care which was the real answer. Looking ahead to what this team, this year, can accomplish limits what can happen next year with next year's team.

That's not the way to build a program. That's the way to build a one-time winner.

Horn has no interest in that.

"All you can control is your next game," he said. "Fortunately, we've gotten some wins and we're in the position we're in, one that maybe nobody expected us to be."

NOTE: Horn also spoke about the status of guard Branden Conrad and forward Austin Steed. Conrad, who dressed for the first time since Dec. 18 during USC's win over Arkansas, did not play but is making progress. Horn said he will pursue a bit more aggressive rehabilitation this week on his healing right foot, but will probably not see much game time. Steed, who got popped in the mouth against the Razorbacks and only played four minutes, was fine other than a busted lip.



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